Sunday, March 11, 2012

「これは事故か。殺人か」

「私は信じます。いつか必ずくる事故のない未来を・・・・」
『アクシデンツ -事故調クジラの事件簿-』

"I believe that one day it will come. A future with no accidents..."
"Accidents - The Case Files of Accident Investigator Kujira")

Still no new books, but I at least have new detective games! Kamaitachi no Yoru 2 is going to be awesome! I am just one hour in the game and we already have a grand meta-setting, a secluded island, a curiously designed mansion (ex-prison) and even a warabe-uta (cf. nursery song) that is definitely going to be used for the murders!

But to get to the topic of today. I don't consider myself a fan of the mangaka Yamada Takatoshi, but the fact is that I do enjoy his works very much. It would be easy for example to raise the fact that he made a really neat three-volume manga adaptation of several Shounen Tantei Dan stories. Or the fact that he wrote Dr. Koto Shinryoujo ("Dr Koto's Clinic"), one of my favorite series. It is not really ontopic for this blog, but to make a small introduction: the series is set on a small island in Okinawa, where young doctor Koto takes charge of the island's only medical clinic. It takes hours by boat to reach the nearest large island (with hospitals), so doctor Koto's clinic is pretty much the only place to get medical care for the inhabitants of the island. The story revolves around our young idealistic doctor trying to gain the trust of the inhabitants (who have very bad experiences with their local doctors), mixing humor, human drama, Black Jack-esque emergency operations and even social commentary regarding the Japanese health system. Totally recommended (there is also a TV drama version, which is arguably better than the original manga!)

But I still don't consider myself a Yamada Takatoshi fan. I just like his works. My first Yamada Takatoshi manga was Accidents - Jikochou Kujira no Jikenbo ("Accidents - The Case Files of Accident Investigator Kujira"), which is actually a great manga too. But pretty much unknown outside Japan. Probably even within Japan. Accidents is pretty much what the title says it is: a series about accidents. The protagonist, Kujiragi Yuu, nicknamed Kujira (whale), is a special investigator of accidents appointed directly by the cabinet. Kujira appears whenever strange accidents happens, from exploding planes to people being dragged away by trains and spontaneous exploding brides, using his authority and expert knowledge to find out how the accident happened and how they can prevent it from happening again. And of course, not all accidents are just 'accidents'...

I'll mention right away that this is not an orthodox detective manga like Detective Conan or Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo. This is not about giving the reader a challenge, not about presenting a puzzle plot with carefully laid out clues and such. And it was never meant as such. So why discuss it here? Well, it is often pretty close to an orthodox detective and it is just a very entertaining series. Most of the stories are about Kujira detecting his way through the aftermath of a terrrible accident, trying to find out what caused it. Which is not very much far away from a normal orthodox detective set-up, right? In fact, most of the stories are actually fairly clued and it is often theoretically possible to solve the cases yourself. Theoretically, I say, because most of us will not have expert knowledge on satellites, the inner workings of airplanes and the way motor engines are built. I think. Or specialist knowledge about geology. These cases are usually not easy to solve (there are some more normal cases though, that turn out to be murder cases and not just simple accidents).


But luckily, it never gets too difficult. Like with medical manga like Black Jack and Dr. Koto Shinryoujo, all of the technical information is presented in a easy-to-understand way, never overwhelming the reader. (Freak) Accidents are also something you often see in the news and thus the subject material in Accidents never feel too unfamiliar to the average reader. Compare to Higashino Keigo's Galileo series: those stories are also often about (rare) natural phenomena causing seemingly impossible situations, but the sitations there never feel familiar enough to the reader and they end up feeling unfair because those stories always refer to expert knowledge no average reader would have. In Accident, the expert knowledge is applied to familiar situations, feeling less detached from the reader's imagined world. In fact, this is also a highly educational manga, as it shows how just a little careless mistake or oversight might cause a bigger accident through natural phenomena and how everything is related to each other. It is certainly not bad to take note of the information presented in Accidents.


And I don't know whether this is a typical Yamada-thing or not, but Accidents contains a lot of social commentary like Dr. Koto Shinryoujo. The latter obviously takes a critical look at the medical health care on faraway islands, the aging of the local population and life on islands in general. Accidents takes a look at the modern society. It's of course easy to criticize large companies who cut corners that lead to large scale accidents (which is also done in this series), but Accidents also looks at the bigger picture, at how man has become reliant on technology which is not as perfect as we might think it is. Yamada does not see technological advancement as a bad thing though: he just wants to remind the reader that we should always watch for accidents and should learn from our past mistakes (accidents), so we can prevent them the next time.

By now it might seem that this is a very heavy, serious series, but that's actually wrong. There is, despite the heavy subbject matter, actually quite a bit of humor in this series (mostly provided by token cute girl Hiiragi) and most stories appeal to the human-drama/feel-good feelings of the reader. In that respect, it is very similar to Dr. Koto Shinryoujo.

Anyway, at ten volumes, this is a neat, short series that should appeal to fans of detective novels / manga. Some might criticize the lack of something like a main storyline, but Accidents is certainly educative and entertaining and you know what, it deserves to be known a bit more.

Original Japanese title(s): 山田貴敏 『アクシデンツ -事故調クジラの事件簿-』

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